Monday, January 23, 2012

Chapter 18

18.  Fast Forward
My break at home that 1997 autumn was uneventful and I just couldn’t wait to get back to California and my newfound romance.  Mario and I spoke on the phone every night and, boy oh boy, were those phone bills high!  I didn’t share a lot about Mario with my family while I was home and the break was very quick.  Soon I was back in California and Mario picked me up at the airport.  He took me to dinner at his house and I met his family.

Mario has five sisters and at the time, two of them lived at home with his mother.  His 5-year-old niece also lived there since his older sister was a single mom, working hard to make a home for herself and her daughter.  I have to admit when he told me about all those women in his family I was more than a little intimidated.  It’s hard enough to meet the mother of an only son, but to meet 5 sisters and a niece too?  That was nerve-wracking to say the least.  The visit, however, was mostly pleasant and I only shook in my boots twice.  The first time was when I met his 2 oldest sisters, who had driven up to us in the ministry's parking lot. Rolling down the passenger window, both sisters allowed Mario to introduce us. Then the oldest one, who was driving, leaned over and menacingly warned me, "if you break his heart, we'll kick your a**." All of us girls laugh about it now but at the time I thought they might actually be gangsters.

The second time was when his mom took me aside privately to, well, basically ask me what my intentions were regarding her son.  I'd never had a mother of an only son approach me like that. It was kind of scary. But apparently I satisfied her curiosity because after that I was welcomed with open arms and received no further threats from the sisters.

During my break at home I had received a call from the main ministry office asking if I would be interested in attending the directors’ camp as a nanny just before the teams reconvened for the fall tours.  The camp was arranged for a few days up in the mountains designed to prepare all the leadership and directors for the upcoming ministry.  I had met most of them by then and had become friends with one of the couples.  Their little girl was a bilingual toddler, speaking both French and English.  I loved babysitting her while they had meetings and really developed a great bond with her.  While at the camp, my director asked me about my relationship with Mario and I filled him in on our growing feelings toward each other.  I knew that the leadership generally split non-married couples up to join different teams in order to protect team unity and lower the distraction level for ministry purposes. So I expected that would be the decision the leaders had made for Mario and I once we arrived at the general team rehearsal camp in a few days.

When we arrived at the regular rehearsal camp, I was shocked to discover that Mario and I were to remain on the same team.  Confused but happy, I rehearsed with my orchestra teammates and tried to act like Mario and I were not dating [per the ministry rules].  Talk about a tough assignment!  Well, I really had no idea how hard it would actually become. It turned out that it was a whole lot more difficult to act like we were unattached while we toured that fall to places like Hawaii and Colombia.  But even through the hard times, like jealousies and disagreements [we had plenty of those], our director made sure to pray with us as individuals and as a couple throughout the next few months.  During our team’s ministry in Hawaii, it was most difficult to maintain any sort of distance from each other.  I mean, for heavens’ sake it is one of the most romantic places on earth!  Though it was unpleasant at times and decidedly annoying at others, we succeeded in honoring our director, each other and the Lord through the few weeks in Hawaii and later during our tour in Colombia.

From September to mid-December, we played in churches, parks, malls, schools throughout the southern United States, Hawaii and Colombia.  In mid-December all the teams met back in Visalia, California for one last concert together.  By now I had transferred out of the little orchestra, no longer playing the keyboards but singing as an alto in the vocal lineup.  Through the years of ministry with the group I had high aspirations of being a vocalist, learning their warm-ups, the harmonies and lyrics while playing my part in the band.  I thought, “I could give glory to God so much better from up there than down here”.   Good grief, what a stupid way to spend my brain cells!  

Once I was up there in the vocal lineup, I realized that being in the orchestra was actually the enviable position.  In the orchestra, I could play but also watch the audience and pray for them.  I could pick and choose what parts I would play.  I knew that people would watch me but that not everyone would.  As a vocalist, I had to sing my part and my part only, time my vibrato and breathing "just so" to match the others and sing when I might not necessarily feel like it (which was quite often actually).  Everyone was looking at me, all the time and I had to have my “game face” on every night.  That was much more difficult than I had imagined.  Yet it taught me so much about pride & humility, about losing myself in worship and about putting others before me.  Much of what I learned there has helped me in ministry at home and showed me more about God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy than I ever would have learned while behind my keyboards.

Mario and I looked forward to the final concert with trepidation.  We had grown closer through handwritten notes and diaries that we shared but had had very little alone time since September.  Did the Lord want us to continue on with the ministry for the next two-year cycle?  Or did He have a different path for us?  Were we meant to be together forever, as Mario believed? Or were we just there for each other for a season, as I nervously wondered? Separately we prayed about what God would have us do as individuals and as a couple.  

I'll never forget one morning when Mario came to the bus. He seemed like he was floating, and for a 300-pound, 6'3" guy that's really saying something. He couldn't wait to share something with me but we had to wait for all the preliminary preparations to be completed before the bus started moving and we could sit near each other. He whispered, "I had a dream last night. A vision actually, I think." Moved with curiosity, I waited. Still talking in a low tone but no longer whispering he began to share...

"I was driving in a pick-up truck with Robert*, headed up the mountain into the Sequoia National Park. We stopped on a hillside and looked out over Woodlake where all those orchards are," he paused to see if I knew the area he meant. I nodded.

"Well, we were looking out and we could see nothing but trees for quite a ways. And Robert said, 'Mario, see those trees there? That's how many people your grandmother has reached for the Lord.' 'Wow', I replied, 'that's a lot.' Then we got back in the truck and drove further up the mountain. Getting back out, Robert pointed to the west and all we could in the setting sun were trees, stretching to the horizon. Robert told me, 'Mario, that's how many people your mother will reach for the Lord.' Amazed, I said nothing. Getting back in the truck, I pondered all those lives represented by the trees. Suddenly we were at the top of the mountain and Robert pointed to the view surrounding the entire mountain. There were trees all along the sides of the mountains, spilling into the valleys, over the hills, past the bounds of our vision, past the horizon." Mario paused for a moment. By now, I was picturing the scene with him. Once again whispering, he said, "Robert turned to me and sweeping his arm across the view, he told me 'Mario, this is how many people you and Angel will touch for the Lord together."  

It was like the air had been sucked out of the bus, teammates gone and only Mario and I were left. My heart pounded and my imagination whirled. Though he spoke softly, his words hit my spirit like a flood. It locked something into place for me and I saw what Mario had seen. I believed in my heart that we could be a very strong couple for forever, just as Mario had said. It remained to be seen, however, if these feelings would diminish over time as we were about to be separated from each other for who knew how long. We prayed together that day, that God would direct us very clearly and that we would know our next steps.
After the ministry Christmas party and the last concert of the year (which was powerful and amazing), Mario drove me to Los Angeles to catch a flight home.  We stayed with his friends in the city for a day and talked about our future.  We continued to pray together about it and ultimately came to the decision that our time with this particular ministry had come to an end. We would head to our respective homes to see what other paths the Lord had for us.  I was wary about our relationship, even after hearing about Mario's vision, thinking it might have been great while on the road but it wouldn’t stand up to the strains of distance and time.  I knew that oftentimes what we feel so strongly during the "high moments" of ministry times, fades with the onset of "regular life". I thought to myself, “well then, if he's serious and if he really wants me, he will come and get me.”  And giving him one last kiss, I boarded my plane back home to Detroit.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chapter 17

17.  Understanding Redemptive Love
While it is true that many changes had begun in my life and in my heart, I still wanted to find a way to have fun yet still honor the Lord.  I guessed that I could still go out to listen to good music at a restaurant or bar, or perhaps even go dancing at a club as long as I didn’t drink too much alcohol and flirt.  When I arrived back in California my girl friend and I went to a place where there was a DJ and had some fun just dancing.  But soon our fun was ruined because one of the other patrons there decided we wanted to dance with him.  We let him dance near us for a while but when he put his hands on my hips and got too close to me, I shoved him away with all the strength I had. In anticipation of a problem, I saw several huge guys stand up around the club, watching to see if this man would retaliate against me. Fortunately for him, he backed away from us. Still, our night of fun girl-time was ruined and we left immediately for home.  I have realized since then that I can indeed have fun and honor the Lord, even while dancing, but it has taken me quite a long time to figure out the proper ways to present myself and the fun I’d like to have.

I looked forward to the promise Mario had made me earlier in the month.  My friend and her mother helped me do my makeup and hair the night Mario came to pick me up.  I had brought with me a royal blue cocktail dress, empire waist with sparkles on top and silky skirt on bottom. I would be lying if I said it was a proper skirt length but my goodness, I looked GOOD in it. I was so nervous about going out with my friend, who had quickly become my best friend, and yet had no idea why. For heaven's sake, I couldn't even eat a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese and that's saying something there.

“What in the world is my problem?” I asked the ladies.  They just giggled and shrugged their shoulders.  When Mario knocked on the door I took a deep breath, smoothed my skirt and opened the door.  Stepping back to look at me, Mario shook his head and gave a surprised whistle.  Immediately feeling fantastic about everything and smiling at him, I turned to wave at my friends.  Winking at me, they closed the door behind me and I was off on my first date in about eight months.

Mario took me to a place in Fresno, a popular blues spot where some of his cronies would be playing that evening and where I ate calamari for the first time ever.  I was amazed when we walked in and the band members shouted out Mario’s name.  They were still setting up and as he greeted them one by one I realized he must be something special.  These guys were all in their 40’s and 50’s yet they treated him as an equal.  After our appetizers were served, I found out exactly why.  The band leader called Mario up to play and sing with them as a special guest.  The little crowd gathered there went nuts.  I had heard Mario play and sing before but not like that.  He was in his element and it was amazing.  When he came to sit back down with me, I noticed all the other ladies in the place looking at him a little differently, sending flirtatious looks and comments his way.  
I was astonished at the jealous feelings that came over me.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “what’s going on here?”  I decided I was just being over-protective of him and made up my mind to thoroughly enjoy this evening with my best buddy. And when Mario took me home that night, I slept wonderfully.

A few days later all the full-time teams met again at the ministry office and loaded our bags and selves back onto our buses.  We went up to the summer rehearsal camp for a bit, each full-time team practicing alone and also with the summer teams.  Then off we headed for our summer tour.  That June through August 1997 would take us through the western United States and up through Canada to the Northwest Territories.  I had never been to see that part of our country before and I knew it was going to be beautiful.  

I was still playing the keyboards and very much enjoyed being a part of the little orchestra.  Some of our teammates had been moved to summer teams and our bus was hosting a slightly smaller group of people.  But we were a family and were learning how to navigate through our individual quirks, occasional disagreements and felt very blessed to have so much talent in one spot.  God seemed to have truly appointed each of us to be there for that specific time.

My health was definitely much better than it had been overseas but I still dealt with the core issues that fear was causing.  From time to time I experienced bouts of emotional distress and of course, there was still the bothersome gastric nonsense.  The ministry time was sweet and precious that summer.  The Lord spoke through me to a group of teenage girls in Seattle, Washington about anorexia and I was able to pray with some of them.  I met several women who were involved in ungodly relationships or who felt unworthy to be loved either by man or by God.  He caused me to use my experiences to minister to them and in so doing further my own personal healing.

I remember one particular evening in the Northwest Territories.  We were in a tiny little church and during the rehearsal I’d had a disagreement with one of the other girls.  Something about I didn’t like her attitude toward me and she didn’t like my tone of voice toward her.  Ridiculous and petty but quite human and kind of normal for being stuck on a bus together.  My heart was still broken about many things.  I was constantly reliving the choices I had made in my recent past, feeling great guilt and condemnation.  Leigh and Nicole had prayed with me and encouraged me as much as they could but I still needed a special touch from the Lord.  It was one of those nights when I had nothing left to give and was feeling spiritually exhausted.  I cried out to the Lord during the prayer time portion of the concert instead of going out to pray with the others.  “Father, Abba, I cry out to You tonight,” I quietly cried.  “I ask You to help me feel Your presence, to accept Your forgiveness and to understand the depth of Your love for me.” Tears streamed down my cheeks as I waited for His presence to overwhelm me.

Putting my hands over my face, as I sought the Lord I felt someone wrap arms around me.  After a moment of letting myself feel loved, I peeked between my fingers expecting to see Leigh there. But there was no one near.  No one was touching me yet I felt physically surrounded by arms of strength, forgiveness and love.  Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes and for once just accepted God’s peace.  I let His love and the knowledge of His redemption pour through my heart and mind, cleaning out all the left-over cobwebs and ugly corners.  

That night I dreamed that I jumped off a cliff into a churning ocean.  The hopelessness and despair sucked me down, down, down into the depths.  But as I looked up at the waning light I felt a sudden shift and a change in direction.  Instead of getting further away from the light, I was literally hurtling toward it.   Soon I was spewed out of the depths, the cold desperate waves and was lying breathless on the shore.  The sensation woke me up and I believed that I had finally been washed clean and had a new life, a new heart for the Lord.

I wish I could say that everyone noticed a change in me immediately but unfortunately that is not the case.  Humans change slowly but as long as we are willing, God makes all things good both for us and through us.  As the days passed I realized that I still felt unworthy in many ways but that the good work He had begun would one day be completed (Philippians 1:6).  Fear still had its hold in my heart but I knew now that when I ran to God, He had all the tools I needed to fight it.  He was already preparing a way to victory for me even then.

The friendships I made that summer on the road have lasted and I cherish each one.  I became even closer to Leigh, Nicole and Mario.  One morning in late July, deep into the Northwest Territories, I opened my eyes and had a sudden realization.  “Oh my goodness.  I’m in love with Mario.”  Never in a million years would I have ever suspected that I harbored those feelings.  Sure, I loved the attention he gave me and I was jealous and protective of him.  But surely that didn’t mean love.  Yet that morning, I knew with all my heart that I’d fallen for a Godly, talented, beautiful man.  I was so excited to get ready and get to that bus to share my "aha" moment with him. Yet when I told him of my newfound feelings later that day in a private moment, he was not too excited.  His exact words were, "Oh Man!" Undeterred I asked him why.  He said, “it’s not that I don’t love you.  But I’m a team leader and you just broke all the rules by telling me this.  Have you told our director?”  I laughed and with a very high degree of attitude said, "no but you can tell the director anything you like. He already thinks I'm a slut."

Frustrated, Mario did tell our director who was absolutely furious.  He told Mario to avoid me at all costs, since I was probably just playing with his emotions and would drop him when the tour was over.  When I heard that I was so angry and it nearly undid all the things I had only recently learned about God.  I was already feeling unworthy of receiving love from a man of God based on past decisions I’d made.  I shared those thoughts with Mario and he went home after one of our concerts to pray for me. The next morning on the bus he took me aside and simply replied, “Angel, if God can forgive you then who am I?  I am not bigger and better than God to decide not to forgive you.”  And that was when I fully understood what redemptive love truly meant.  That Jesus didn’t die for everyone except me, He died even for me.  He paid a price that I was completely unable to pay so that I could be forgiven, loved and free (Hebrews 10:10). Nothing I could do would change that or make Him love me more. His love is not based on my performance or perfect facade but rather on the fact that I desperately need a Savior.

My director and I agreed to sit down and have a chat.  I shared my heart with him, this time telling him the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I held nothing back, explaining that although my passive behavior and thoughtless flirting had led another male teammate to believe I had a romantic interest in him I had no such interest.  I reminded him that Mario and I had become good friends and that I was just as surprised as either of them that I felt so strongly for Mario. I told him that I appreciated his concern and I was willing to submit to his instruction if he was willing to seek the Lord for further direction.  Since the summer tour was ending in one week we agreed to meet again in a few weeks, after praying separately about the issue, just before the fall ministry began to discuss the matter further.

Meanwhile, Mario and I decided that instead of taking a full 2 week break at home, I would come back early to California again so that we could spend some quality time together.  Each August before the break, all the teams would come together and perform a Homecoming concert, giving all the California supporters and families a chance to see the ministry up close.  Afterward, many of us would get together at hotels, at restaurants or in homes to visit with each other before flights home the next morning.  Mario and I went out to eat with a bunch of our friends and then took off for some time alone.  He drove me around town showing me his old hang-outs, old houses, his school.  We stayed up very late and he took me back to the hotel so I could pack up my things. Unfortunately, we had stayed up so late I wasn't able to get any sleep and left about an hour later than I should have for my flight.  Driving me to the airport as quickly as he could, we talked and talked, making our plans for my early return.

I nervously watched the clock as we drove to Fresno from Visalia and I knew I would barely make it in time for my flight, if at all. Now, I'm usually a very timely person but as the previous chapters indicated when I'm in love, I can't seem to tell time at all and am always late. Whether for curfew or, apparently, for a flight. As soon as I hit the doors of the terminal, I dropped every bag but one and quickly kissing Mario, ran for the security check while yelling back for him to UPS my bags to me. I had pre-printed my boarding pass and squeezed through security just in time to see my airplane pulling away from the jetway. I MISSED MY FLIGHT! Though I'm heartily amused today looking back at it, at the time I was mortified. How on earth would my parents feel about me missing a flight because of a boy when they used to ground me for being late for curfew? It mattered not to me that I was 20 years old. I felt like a schoolgirl again caught doing something wrong.  

So, I went back to the airline desk at the front and found Mario just sitting there with my luggage all around him. Apparently he knew I wouldn't make the flight and patiently decided to wait until I knew it too. Surprised that he was still there, I melted into his arms and cried like that little schoolgirl. Patting my head and reassuring me, he helped me gather my things and we transferred my missed flight to another ticket for the next flight out. Then he stood next to me as I called my parents to tell them of the travel changes. Funny but they didn't respond badly at all. All that worry for nothing. As usual. He then took me to lunch and got me safely on the next flight out to Michigan. What a man!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chapter 16

16.  First Tour Finish
The remainder of the winter tour passed without disaster or misadventure, for which I’m sure my director is eternally grateful.  Landing back in Los Angeles, California was the most exciting thing!  Even though I’d been so sick and had such weird adventures, I still had done my studying and had accomplished my task, faxing home my papers to my mother.  When we landed, I remember calling home.  I think it might have been the first time I spoke to them since leaving the States in January and the emotions just flooded the phone lines.  I was healthy, I told them.  They told me my papers had been submitted and received just fine.  I had received my graduation approvals and my Bachelor’s degree was sitting on my desk at home.  I would be home within a few weeks and we would have a big party to celebrate.

While finishing out the tour with a few concerts in California, Mario and Leigh and I cemented our friendships.  The three of us laughed together and prayed together.  Mario and I also shared a very special friendship with a girl named Nicole*.  Throughout the tour people thought she and I were sisters because we looked so much alike.  God had already mightily used all three of these people to bring healing into my life.  I only hoped that I could reciprocate in a special way to each of them one day.

Before I went home to Michigan for the spring break, I made Mario promise to take me to hear him play the blues somewhere when I came back in a few weeks.  I had discovered that not only did he play trumpet but he had been a local blues favorite playing the harmonica and singing around his area in California.  Having been raised on Southern Gospel, Elvis and praise and worship tunes, I was fascinated.  And so, he rolled his eyes and promised to take me.

When I arrived at the Metro-Detroit airport I was beyond excited to see my family.  I had already changed so much and had so much to share with them.  I talked a mile-a-minute all the way home.  Apologizing to them for the overload, I asked them about life the past few months.  They were teaching at the church and working hard at home.  Mom and April were also attending college classes, getting fabulous grades.  

One of the funniest things was my family’s reaction to my first appearance.  When I left in January, my hair was thick and shoulder-length.  Well, while overseas in the searing hot weather, I had decided to have my friend cut it into a bob-style, just under my ears.  It was very cute and much cooler.  Unfortunately a short haircut needs more constant maintenance.  So, in order to save my friend the bother of spending her day off cutting my hair when we were in Hong Kong I decided to go to a hair salon downtown and pay for it to be done professionally.  

My friend Nicole went with me and we grilled the hair stylist to make sure he understood what style I wanted. And also to make sure that he spoke English.  He insisted, “yes, yes” and began trimming.  He was using a buzz clip and although I thought that was odd I figured it must be a cultural preference.  As Nicole and I chatted, however, I noticed her eyes were growing larger and larger as I watched her face in the mirror.  She was sitting behind me watching him cut my hair.  Finally, she gulped and weakly asked, “are you sure that’s the way you want it, Angel?”  Stopping the barber abruptly, I reached my hand to touch the back of my head and felt….scalp.  

Grabbing a hand mirror, I looked with horror at the nearly bare-naked, freshly shaved back of my head.  I had no bangs in front either, just hair angled down long at my chin and now practically bald at the back.  Mouths wide open, we looked at each other and back to the barber.  He said, “you no like shave?”  And I began to laugh.  Nicole practically had tears in her eyes over my “beautiful hair” and I was laughing so hard.  Signaling to the stylist, I said, “you might as well finish it up now.”

I had not told my family about my new hairdo because I had gotten used to it and forgotten what a shock the first impression was.  And it had already grown out some, it was at least ¼ of an inch back there now.  My Dad and uncle aptly named my new style the “rick-shave”, after I told them of the harrowing rickshaw rides we’d taken, and there was another of my mishaps put down in family history.

Spending that time with my family was incredible and I began to rebuild my relationships with them. I had yet to reconnect with any friends back at home though, largely because I still didn't know if I had any friends left there. And at the time, I didn't care to know. I was more excited to get back to California and spend a few days with my new friends before heading back out on tour.  So, I said goodbye again and flew out to stay with a host family near Visalia.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chapter 15

15.  Getting Better
I would like to insert another humorous anecdote here. On one of the rare occasions when I was able to participate in an evening concert, I found myself being followed around by a dark-skinned, constantly smiling, very creepy local man. He was driving the truck that carried our equipment from concert site to concert site. Rounding the corner of the building outside, heading back into the main hall where we had just performed, I nearly ran into his outstretched arms. Startled, I pushed him away and looked around for anyone I knew and trusted. Funny but the only one around was that cocky Hispanic trumpet player again. Desperately I called his name and pulling him aside, I quickly let him know that I was being pursued by the truck driver.

I don't remember his response, if indeed he gave me one, but I saw him walk over and start having a discussion with the driver. After that, the man left me completely alone. Days later, I asked Mario what he had said. The exchange occurred as follows,
"Hey man," said the trumpet player, "I noticed you following that blonde girl over there around."
"Yes," responded the truck driver, "I think she is very beautiful and I want to make her my wife." (no, I'm not kidding)
"Well, I don't think that's gonna work", trumpet-man replied, "because you see, she's my wife."
Truck driver paused a moment and then offered, "I can give you one elephant for her." (stop laughing, this is true!)
Mario thought about it (yes, he did) and answered, "man, if you had two elephants I'd really think about it but I can't just give her up for one." (grrrrrrr)
Truck driver became very insulted and stomped away, his dreams of happily-ever-after destroyed by the lack of two elephants.

Ministering during February 1997 in India changed my perspective on life, relationships and God.  I could no longer ignore the fact that I had it good here at home in the United States. We all do.  I couldn’t brush my attitudes, perceptions, judgments and expectations under the rug.  I came face to face with my own inconsistencies and inability to be truly compassionate.  Reaching out to the Lord, I asked Him to give me His heart for His people.  I didn’t want to be fake, to put up a front.  I wanted to be honest, to be healed both physically and emotionally.  In Madras, my roommates prayed with me and I was delivered of all the anorexic thoughts I’d been having and I have never once been under its control again.

I was still very ill physically but during that time I depended on God’s strength and His Scriptures which promised me He would never leave me.  I remembered that He had saved me before and I committed to learn how to love Him, to love myself and then to love others His way.

After India, we headed to Thailand where I was taken to a major hospital in Bangkok.  I received the best care and medications. I discovered that I had a stomach infection, an intestinal infection and a uterine infection. Under Thai doctors' care though, my health turned completely around.  I was back behind my keyboards (there was enough electrical power now for me to play both of them), praising the Lord once again for His faithfulness.  My director and I came to an agreement about the short guy who thought I was going to be his wife and I made it clear to my director that I had no interest.  I enjoyed ministering at the schools in Thailand and had several opportunities to use my schooling in East Asian cultures.  It was a wonderful time and after about two weeks, we prepared to leave for Hong Kong.  We would spend the rest of our time there, taking a few day trips to China and to Macau for some concerts .

One day on the way to Macau from Hong Kong, the team embarked on a hydrofoil boat.  Somehow, a teammate and I got separated from the team and ended up in a completely different section on the boat.  That teammate was Mario.  The same guy who had reprimanded me on the bus in India.  The same one who was shocked when I requested his presence the night of the fire.  On that boat ride, I discovered that Mario was not nearly as obnoxious as I had once thought and he was really quite compassionate and funny.  I ended up telling him all my deepest, darkest secrets that day.  I have no idea how that happened but somehow, it was just so easy to talk to him. It was the beginning of God answering my prayers for being able to see through His eyes and have His heart for others.

As soon as we arrived in Macau, Mario and I went our separate ways but I had learned something very interesting.  I learned that though I always accused other people of having preconceived ideas about others, I was the queen of them all.  Once again, I sought the Lord and asked Him to continue to break my heart for the needs of His children.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chapter 14

14.  I Make a Name for Myself
As days passed it became apparent that the short fuzzy male teammate who had expressed an interest in me was becoming far more enamored of me than he should.  There were express rules against dating but I liked the attention I was getting and I didn’t want to be mean.  One day on the bus, I was leaning up against this boy and I heard a low voice from behind me say, “Angel, you better guard your heart.”  I turned around and rudely responded, “it’s none of your business”.  The voice had been Mario’s, the obnoxious trumpet player who had stayed with my family during the summer.  He calmly responded, "you're making everyone on this bus feel uncomfortable and I care enough to confront you about it. Stop flirting with [him] or you'll have bigger problems." I was amazed that he would dare to correct me when I had never spoken two words to him before.  Here he was chastising me and not the other person involved?  How rude, I thought.

I was so angry with him, I resolved to never speak to him as long as I lived (very mature).  Meanwhile, the other guy just put his arm around me and cozied up to me even more.  As the weeks went by, the attention being given to me by this boy became quite unbearable and very, very unwelcome.  I finally spoke to my director but instead of telling him that the feelings were not mutual (I was still trying not to be "mean"), I downplayed it and we were both allowed to continue to minister on the same team.  I regret that decision but I was still struggling with my health and with my own insecurities.  If I shut this guy down completely, would I ever feel loved again?

I have very few memories of ministry time in India due to my extreme health issues but some of what I do remember is quite amusing.  We traveled by bus for ten hours from Calcutta to reach a mountain city in Mizoram.  The trip proved to be too much for me and I relapsed into a feverish state with severe abdominal issues.  Leaving me in my room with another girl who had an injured back but would check in on me from time to time, the team headed off for a grueling day filled with 3 concerts.  When my roommate (Rachel*) returned, she found that in between bouts of sickness, I had done all of our laundry and it was hung up throughout the room to dry.  She told me all about the day’s adventures and then we turned out the lights after praying together for God’s healing and protection.  Because of the fever and chills, I had requested a space heater for it was very cold during the night in Mizoram.

As we fell asleep, I dreamt in that place between waking and sleeping. In my dream I saw that the curtains caught on fire and I barely had the strength to put them out.  In my sleep I heard a loud “POP” and then a “Ssssssssssssss”.  My eyes popped open and I stared down at the end of my bed, heart pounding and senses struggling to wake up.  I saw a smeary orange ball at the end of my bed.  Putting on my glasses and turning on the light, I found that the space heater was on fire and smoke was billowing up toward the ceiling.  Thinking quickly but not coherently, I decided I better turn on the ceiling fan to get the smoke out.  Or, for those who have already thought ahead, maybe to add oxygen to the flames.  I have to say, it wasn’t one of my best moments.  

Turning the fan back off, I crawled across my bed, reached down near the heating unit and quickly unplugged it.  If you think this is taking a long time to tell, it took just as much time to put it into action.  The medicines and the fever had taken all my “quickness” and turned it to mush.  Meanwhile, pretty brunette Rachel was sleeping soundly.

Calling her name, I picked up the house phone and dialed the front desk.  Answering with a thick accent, the operator asked for my room number.  I calmly told him and said, “and there is a fire in our room.  I think you’ll want to come and do something about it.”  Now, had I been healthy, I would have put the fire out myself with a thick blanket.  It wasn’t at a dangerous level and was only very smoky.  But, as I said my thoughts were mush.  Rachel was sitting up in bed by this time and had apparently decided….actually I don’t know what she was thinking.  She said later that she had no thoughts at all, she couldn’t snap out of her deep sleep. I told her, "don't worry, the maintenance guys are coming....I think."

Then I gathered my pillow and a blanket and left our room.  I knocked on the door of the room next to us, where my friend Leigh was staying.  When she answered the door, she peeked out at me and slowly said, “Yes?” with a raised eyebrow.  I replied, “can I stay in your room tonight?”  Thinking my request was very odd, she opened the door and said “sure” wondering if Rachel and I had had a fight or something.  I told her, as if it were the most commonplace thing ever, “naw, we didn’t fight.  There’s just a fire in my room.”  And then I went and lay down on her bed.  Her jaw dropped. When she collected her thoughts, Leigh exclaimed, “what?!” and raced out the door just as the maintenance man from the front desk ran into my former room with a fire extinguisher.

Somehow during the mayhem, it was decided that my roomie and I should probably be relocated into a non-smoke-filled room.  By now, all the girls from the team were out of their rooms and excitedly reacting to my newest adventure.  Our squeals and giggles carried upstairs and were heard by some of our teammates, including the guy who chastised me before, Mario.  Mario told the director, “I’ll go down and see what’s going on”.  Safely ensconced in my new bedroom, I heard his voice down the hallway interrogating my friends. I giddily shouted for him to come and see me.  He later told me that he knew then that I was really quite ill because I had actually requested his presence.

By the time he arrived by my side, Rachel also arrived.  She stood in our doorway covered head-to-toe in the white stuff that comes out of fire extinguishers.  Blink, blink went her big, brown eyes.  The maintenance man took one look at her and began apologizing as he hit her over and over again with a rolled up towel.  Puffs of white bounced off of her and I began to giggle.  I couldn’t stop, she looked so funny standing there as she thanked him repeatedly for beating her with the towel. Plus, everyone had all of our dusty clothes and underwear gathered in their arms.  I laughed so hysterically that it was catchy and eventually everyone else joined in too.  Shaking her head as she tucked me into my new smokeless bed, Leigh said “only Angel.”  And that is how I became known as the “Queen of Adventures” (sarcasm included).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chapter 13

13.  Adventures Continue
In December 1996, I went to my college advisor to sign up for graduation.  I was told, “but you still have 8 more credit hours to complete”.  I not-very-calmly replied, “WHAT?!”  I had all the paperwork from my fall planning session stating that I would be done in December. It mattered not to the powers-that-were at the college and because of program changes I needed to complete an additional 8 hours.  

But I had already begun fundraising and had purchased non-refundable airline tickets to California to join the ministry full time in January.  I asked my professors one by one to work out another set of independent study classes for me but was turned down by each.  I was crushed.  How could this be what God wanted?  I prayed about it and went to the dean of my school.  

He approved my proposal, was very impressed with my plans for the winter and said that I could write the reports overseas and fax them home to my mother. She would then type them up and send the files directly to him for grading. God's favor was surely upon me when I met with that dean.

With that decision made, I was finally going to be on my way.  During the holidays that year, I gathered all my study materials. I also raised funds by hosting and performing at a talent show, as well as writing letters or making personal appointments with everyone I knew.  As soon as the holiday season was over, I packed up my bags and in mid-January was off to rehearsal camp in California to join a team that had been ministering together for an entire year already.  Although they'd been together for a year already, I had been able to bond with a few of them each time the team came through Michigan. So, as scary as this whirlwind of decision was to me, it was past time for me to escape the trap I’d made for myself at home.  God had miraculously opened up a door to me, quite possibly to freedom and redemption from all of the heartache and sickness in which I had recently been immersed.

On the 5 hour flight, I relaxed and reviewed my path to this point. I remembered hitting it off with several the team members when they ministered to me that past summer. One guy in particular had stayed at our house in the family travel trailer after one of the concerts.  He was a big Hispanic guy who played the trumpet on the team.  He was an amazing instrumentalist and a natural leader. Everyone seemed to love him but personally, I thought he was pretty cocky and obnoxious.  Still, you can’t like everyone all the time, can you?

This tour would turn out to be drastically different than all the others, in part because I would be a part of this team for the whole year.  I would come home for a two-week break in April and one in August.  I was going to be busy ministering while simultaneously studying so that I could complete my schooling while I was gone. Something none of my teammates had ever attempted to accomplish.  I knew that it would be incredibly hard work but I felt in my heart that I was ready for it.

After rehearsal camp we had a few concerts in California to get us ready for the big trip and then we were off to India!  After being briefed on what to expect from others who had gone before us, I was a little nervous but felt that it wouldn’t be much different from my previous trips or what I had studied at college.  I’m overcome by laughter just writing that.

The 18-hour flight and subsequently smooth landing in Sri Lanka to catch our connecting flight to Trivandrum, India was uneventful.  But oh, the events afterward.  Something happened with our paperwork and only half of the 30-person team was approved to enter India.  I was part of that half. The others, including the obnoxious Latino trumpet player stayed behind in Sri Lanka for the night while the paperwork was evaluated.  Our half of the team landed at a teeny tiny, only-one-person-working-there airstrip.  

We crossed the steaming tarmac and watched through a gaping hole in the wall as our bag was unloaded.  Oh, I know what you just read. That’s not a typo. There really was only one bag.  "Where is the rest of our luggage?", we demanded.  Back in Sri Lanka with the rest of the team, we were informed.  “Well, whose locked bag is this?” we asked each other.  Someone checked the luggage tag....Oh. Of course. It belonged to one of the girls who was still in Sri Lanka for the night.  Fan-stinkin-tastic.

On our way from the airstrip we stopped in a town and bought sleeping clothes and toothbrushes.  At our place of rest somewhere in the jungle (I was enthralled actually), we ate chicken soup without using any spoons, in addition to bananas and coconuts right off the trees. I felt like I had suddenly landed smack in the middle of the book, Swiss Family Robinson (Johann Wyss) and I was enchanted. Even finding bones and feathers and other parts which I didn't even know a chicken had in my soup didn't sour my excitement.

However, sweating out the night sleeping on coffee-table sized beds with about an inch of cotton padding did give me a kink in the neck and a second thought about my "calling" to minister.  But then I shrugged and chalked it up to more of my learning curve. This certainly would be an adventure!  The next day the rest of the team and our luggage arrived (thank You, Lord) and the tour really started.  We wound our way up the eastern coast of India, sometimes playing two or three concerts a day.  

There was a young, short, fuzzy man on our team who expressed an interest in me. In fact, he was pretty sure I was "the one" for him (how sick I already was of that over-used phrase). I was still feeling incredibly vulnerable from my last debacle of a relationship. I freely and with bowed head, admit I liked the attention and encouraged it even though he was not someone I would have ever dated.  I mention this now because he plays a significant role in upcoming chapters. But since relationships were strictly forbidden on tour (due to instructions received at rehearsal camp which we all called "the Law and the Prophets"), I figured it was safe to be satisfied with what I called harmless flirtations.  Harmless flirtation…that is definitely an oxymoron.

In Madras, now known as Chennai, we spent a few days doing concerts and then were planning our route to Calcutta.  The director decided to send the ladies of the team via airplane as it was reportedly much safer than the 24-hour train ride the gentlemen of the team would be taking.  That morning, we ate breakfast together.  Juice, bananas, over-easy eggs.  Then the guys left for the train station and we girls loaded up the equipment and luggage into a truck and headed for the airport.  

Once there, several of us started feeling badly.  I went into a restroom to try to induce myself to vomit thinking I would feel better if I could just do that once.  Once I said. Unfortunately, once it started it didn’t stop.  Not for me, not for anyone.  Leigh was the only one who wasn’t sick. At that point, it was pretty obvious what caused the illness because she was the only one who hadn’t eaten the eggs that morning.  We still managed to board the plane and after that....well, I remember things only in bits and pieces. I do recall noticing the masking tape that held the seals on the walls of the plane's interior together. I remember because I thought, "if only they had used duct tape. I'd feel much safer if it were duct tape."  

But those lucid thoughts quickly became random and separated. Because I had been anorexic the past year and only weighed 105 pounds at my 5’7” height, I became violently ill. On the approximately 40 minute flight, I filled up 8 airbags and practically arm-wrestled other passengers at the doors of the restrooms due to distress from my "other end". At some point, I finally just gave up and slouched against my seat partner.

I'd never fainted before or since and don't know if there's usually any element of consciousness. I could hear my friends talking over me and about me. I had a vague sense of a man's voice telling me he was a doctor. We were still in flight and I don't know why but I couldn't respond to them. I was so very exhausted and weak. It was bizarre. When we finally landed, there were four of us on the team that were sick enough to have an ambulance meet us on the tarmac at the Calcutta airport. Someone took a picture of the 4 of us in it.

Somehow though, we ended up not in an ambulance but in a taxi which rushed us to the Assemblies of God Hospital in Calcutta.  Eventually I was checked into a room with another woman from the team.  I didn’t know her well but at that moment I really couldn’t have cared less.  The pain and violence of the illness was vicious.  I heard that the guys arrived in Calcutta some time the next day and the director sped to our sides.  He was distraught that we were so ill and that it was especially me.  He felt responsible for me in many ways and was so upset that he couldn’t do anything for me.  

He later told me he couldn’t find an international phone until the third day and then they couldn’t figure out what to do.  Mom didn’t have a passport or visa and they knew I couldn’t fly home in my condition.  I guess it was pretty bad for a while there.  All I knew was that the medications the hospital gave me were “out of sight”.  My roommate said I was so far gone from the medicine that I didn’t care about anything at all.  I hazed in and out for hours which turned into days.  I saw all kinds of colors each time I threw up (which was often). I was high as a kite. My roommate, we'll call her Katie, was so mad that I was medicated and she wasn't (they thought she might be pregnant - don't worry she was married).

Katie said that once she asked me to pass her the box of kleenex. I swear I heard her say, "please pass me my dress, Angel." In my mind, we were preparing for a concert. I gently passed an object to her that I saw, felt and believed was her dress. Katie says, "no. It was a box of Kleenex and you threw it at me. Whipped it hard at my head." Yikes.

All I knew was that my I.V. pole appeared to be made from cast iron and one morning as I dragged it across the room to go to the rest room my roommate was vehemently pressing her call button to tell on me.  I guess we had been instructed to let them know when a trip to the potty was required.  Apparently they just ignored the button because I was back in the bed before anyone ever came to check on us.  Katie, my sweet partner in illness and I wondered when we’d be released and what sort of disease we had.  I couldn’t understand a word the nurses said to me but when I finally asked in frustration, “well, am I going to die from this?” they were startled into replying with a simple, “no”.  Satisfied with that response, I fell back asleep.

After the third day, they released the two of us to go to the Salvation Army compound where the rest of our team was staying.  The other two girls hadn't been admitted to the hospital and were already there recuperating. It was far too early for me to be released but there was no way on earth I was going to stay in a hospital so far from home all by myself, without my new best friend, Katie. Nothing unites two people more than puking together, you know.  

So I rested the next few days at the compound while the rest of the team did concerts.  That was okay because usually there wasn’t enough electrical power at the concert sites for me to be able to play the keyboard anyway (for this tour, I only had to play one keyboard).  I prayed for all of us while they were gone, went to my follow-up appointments at the hospital and slept.  Throughout the rest of the India tour (6 weeks in total), I would rally for a few days and be able to do some concerts and then I’d be down for the count again for several days.  I missed meeting Mother Theresa on one of those days when the team was invited to sing for her, something I have always regretted.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chapter 12

12.  The Curve Ball
So this boy and I went to a movie and held hands.  We took a walk in the park and I gave him a kiss.  We spent the next year from fall 1995 to fall 1996 dating, fighting, breaking up, getting back together.  It was such an unhealthy relationship from the start.  I discovered that although he knew the Lord, he was not interested in living for the Lord.  I discovered that I didn’t care as long as I could do what I wanted.  If I thought my parents were against my first relationship with the pastor’s son, I was not stunned to find that they were, oh so much more, against this relationship.  And so was everyone else.  I lost every good friend I had due to my stubborn determination to live my life the way I wanted and ignore their sincere dislike of my boyfriend.

I was still only 19 so I couldn’t go out drinking and partying and I felt it would be too risky for my future plans to do something illegal.  I truly felt and acted like that.  So, we drove over to Canada where the legal drinking age is nineteen and you could get into clubs.  Actually, thank the Lord His hand was still on me even then because I tried drinking and partying and I hated it.  I don’t like feeling out of control even for a minute and it turns out that alcohol sets off panic attacks (praise God for that).  I loved to dance though and was the designated driver for my new set of friends.  I moved out of my parents’ house, got an apartment, had two part-time jobs, racked up credit card charges and took twenty credit hours at college in one semester in an effort to graduate in December 1996.

I was not so hypocritical that I did not realize the choices I was making seriously compromised my ability to minister.  So I quietly took myself off of the praise and worship team citing that I was much too busy with school and work.  I’m not sure anyone was fooled.  It was a small little church in a tiny village thirty minutes north of where I lived and everyone there knew everyone else.  Their disapproval of our relationship was quite obvious.  Truthfully though, I was very busy.  I planned an independent study course with my Japanese professor and went to live with a family in Shinshiro, Aichi-ken, Japan for the month of April.  My boyfriend stayed in my apartment while I was gone.  I found out later that he was having friends over (perhaps even other girls) and drinking, which was against my house-rules.  But then again, he wasn’t much for adhering to rules.  Anyway, my stay in Japan was amazing in every way and I even have a toilet story for that trip.

I arrived at the airport after traveling for nearly 24 hours and found my hostess waving a sign at me with my name written in Japanese and English.  We drove for about 45 minutes and finally pulled up at a really, truly wood-and-paper two story house.  Although my hostess and her immediate family could speak English very well, I wouldn’t be staying with them at their small city house.  I stayed instead with her parents-in-law at their home.  They spoke no English.  None at all.  After meeting them, establishing our sign-language communication routine and going through the polite preliminaries I asked her where I would find the restroom.  

Now, in Japan there is a toilet room and there is also a completely separate bath room where you could take a shower then get into a deep, steaming hot bathtub.  I definitely needed the toilet room by that point.  She sent me on my way and I found myself standing before, I kid you not, a veritable throne.  It had arm rests!  And buttons with pictures of different things it would do.  The seat was heated!  Well, I was fascinated but didn’t want my hosts to think weird things about me because I was taking forever in there.  So I finished my business and looked for the flushing handle.  I couldn’t find it anywhere!  I leaned in toward the buttons for a closer look.  Of course, everything was completely written in Japanese so there was no help for me.  But I noticed there were tiny little pictures too.  I pushed one that looked like it had something to do with water.

To my utter dismay I watched as a wand came down into the toilet bowl and began to spray water over my head, hitting the wall behind me.  Screeching just a little I grabbed the tiniest hand towel in the world and using it as a shield, walked toward the offending water wand.  I know it now as a bidet.  Pushing the same button turned it off and dripping wet, I sloshed through the hallway to humbly ask my hostess for help.  By now I was crying but I’m pretty sure she couldn’t tell tears from the water droplets.  She was so gracious and never said a word to me about it.  Just calmly went in and flushed my toilet with the handle which was perched ever so artfully hidden on the right side of the tank.  Nice.  I’m sure they had a laugh about that after I went to bed but I'm so grateful that they never mentioned it to me.

When I returned from my trip to Japan, I turned in my reports at school and received A’s on both of them.  By this time, I was already tired of late nights and of being a constant designated driver for people who made consistently bad decisions and was weary of my 7 months of rebellion.  I was ready for peace and quiet.  But my boyfriend disagreed, insisting he “could change” and “wanted to be together for the rest” of our lives.  Being that it was only the 8th time I’d tried to break up with him, I fell for his reasoning again.  It seemed to be much easier that way.  Besides, although he was emotionally abusive to me in many ways, I certainly was not a push-over.  I could dish it out just as much as he could and I never wanted to let him “win”.

It’s too bad that we wasted a year of our lives on each other like that.  We would have been so much happier and healthier had we not tried to control each other so much.  The crazier thing was that during our relationship I became anorexic.  Not because I thought I was fat.  I could see in the mirror that I wasn’t.  But I got so much attention from everyone by being so thin that I wanted to keep that coming.  I didn’t want to get fat.  And if I got angry or felt out of control about the relationship or school or my family, I would show them all and punish them by refusing to eat.  Yes indeed, those were my thoughts at the time.

In the meantime, my director from the ministry with which I had spent the two previous summers and several of my friends who were traveling on the full time teams were in constant contact with me.  They never let up on me.  Especially my friend, Leigh*.  She loved me no matter what I said or did and truly showed me what Christ’s love is toward me.  Their team came through our town twice, once in July and once in October.  After seeing me in July, the director later told me that he prayed about my situation diligently.  And so did Leigh.  When they arrived again in October, he told me “you need to leave this place and come back on the road with us.”  I was stunned and told him there was no way.  They were in the middle of their two-year commitment and would be going to Asia for 4 months in January.  Each team member had to raise about $20,000 per year to go full-time with the ministry and he was basically asking me to do that in two and half months!

But since I was scheduled to graduate from college in December with my degree in East Asian Studies, it did seem like incredible timing.  After the team left, I really spent some time thinking about it and praying about it.  Even though I had been on my little rebellious track for about a year, I still prayed every single day and went to church every week.  Eventually, I talked it over with my boyfriend who had gone away to school by then.  But that night as we talked I could tell he was distracted.  I’d heard that he had been seen around town with another girl and confronted him about it then.  He denied it, of course, but then I heard a whisper very near to his end of the phone.  

I asked him who that was and then it dawned on me.  What I had heard was true and I just heard her whisper to him!  I admit I reacted very badly and lost my head just then.  It would be an understatement to say that we merely broke up that night. I screamed, I cried, I swore, I collapsed in a heap on my bedroom floor. That's a lot of reaction to losing an unhappy and possibly dangerous relationship with someone I pretty much hated.  It ended up being one of the very best decisions I had ever made.  My lease had ended on my apartment and I was already scheduled to move home to my parents’ house the next day.  I was finishing my college career, he was starting his.  We had an ungodly, unhealthy relationship that was never going to be good.  And so, we went our separate albeit bitter ways.  Again, it was certainly the best thing for both of us.

On the next day, November 1st, I went home to Mom and Dad’s.  I don’t remember apologizing to them but I do remember being repentant.  I got on my knees before the Lord and asked Him to help me.  If I could raise half of the money by January 1, 1997, I would go back for a full year tour with the ministry group.  And I did.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chapter 11

[I originally wrote my entire memoir - which you're getting piece by piece - to enter it into a Women of Faith writing contest in 2010.  It did not win but made it into the top 100.  I am adding to these chapters as I see fit, now that I have time to do so and am not rushing toward a deadline.]

11.  Learning Curve
There are so many things I want to share, so many memories I’d like to relate but this story is really intended to show that Christians who fight fear and panic disorders are not failing in their faith but can really have victory bought by Jesus’ sacrifice and shed blood.  And those who aren’t Christians can have hope that they can find relief from these things too through a personal relationship with Jesus (John 3:16 starts you out).

It was very hard for me to admit that I had a panic disorder and that it would be okay for me take medication from time to time to help alleviate some of the symptoms.  But through much prayer and with help from my family, I have come to realize that if I needed to take some calming medicine once in a while to help my brain understand that I am not in a “fight or flight” situation, it is all right.  Whenever I take any medicine, I make sure that I pray as I take it.  I pray that God will use it to heal me, that I will not become dependent on anything but Him for ultimate relief and that I will remember His faithfulness to me most of all (Psa. 100:3).

After my first tour with the music group, it became clear to me that my boyfriend and I needed to be more clear about our future plans.  My parents were not at all happy that we were dating and were not convinced we should get married.  In an attempt to honor them, we broke up for a few weeks.  But I just couldn’t let him go that easily.  I loved to be loved and I loved love.  In my late teens, I certainly thought I knew what was best for me and surely he was the perfect one.  How could he not be?

My second year in college was as emotionally tumultuous as any other nineteen-year-old might experience.  But I did well in my classes and excelled at my jobs at the fruit market and my dad’s greenhouse.  I was still active in the church on the praise and worship team and in the choir.  I went to all the guys’ basketball and softball games and was the most obnoxious cheerleader they had.  My sister and I barely spoke in those days.  Our lives just coasted on parallel roads. She was dating another boy from our church childhood days and that was fine with me.  She and I fought quite a bit if we ever happened to be at home together but I still thought she was the most talented, beautiful girl in the whole wide world.  My parents and I fought a lot too. I guess I’m pretty stubborn and thought I should be in charge.  At the risk of repeating myself once too often again I say, “sorry Mom and Dad”.

For the summer of 1995, I went back for another three month tour with the ecumenical music ministry.  I asked to be put on the Central America team again because on my first trip to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Belize I became completely enamored with Latin cultures and the Hispanic people.   We had the same director and one or two of the same teammates but almost everyone else was new.  It was awesome to learn about other denominations, personality types, talents…okay, it wasn’t always awesome.  On a 30-foot bus, you can certainly spend a lot of time getting on each other’s nerves.  But you also learn how to interact with people, how to disagree without hurting each other, how to forgive and still effectively minister together the same night.  I learned so much as we traveled once again through the southern United States and then to El Salvador and Costa Rica.  On a cool side note, I also learned how to swing dance and how to salsa dance that tour!

I still had health issues and since I didn’t know anything about the core issues at that time, I did the best I could with food choices, water availability and the resulting bathroom trips.  I wrote to my boyfriend regularly but was now beginning to wonder about our future together.  I agonized about it in my journals and I prayed about it with my teammates and my director.  But I just didn’t know what to do.  There were other fellows in the ministry that I had noticed and in general I thought that I might like to become better friends with the people outside my very exclusive circle back home in Michigan.

Eventually I felt that the Lord had told me that my boyfriend and I should move on in our lives.  In my mind and in my heart, I felt that we were clearly not meant to be together since I was traveling so much and he really kind of liked to stick around town more.  We were growing up and growing apart in so many ways.  Funny but I’m tearing up a little writing this.  He really was such a great guy and I hate to have ever caused him any hurt.  But, I came home that August 1995 and we agreed to officially break up.  No going back. No changing our minds.

Shortly afterward, I went down to a visit a friend in Ohio that I had met on tour.  He was nice and our parents got along well.  I was excited to discover what God might have planned for us.  But after spending non-ministry time together, having fun and enjoying our mutual interest in music, we both knew that was definitely not the route God had planned for us.  I became very angry at the Lord then because I honestly had thought if I gave up the love I had for the pastor’s son, surely God would reward me by bringing “the one" He had ordained for me immediately to my side.  I was wrong. And I was hurt. Hurt that the Ohio guy didn't want me, hurt that the pastor's son didn't fight to get me back. Actually, he seemed relieved and happy to get rid of me.

Unfortunately, I entered a very dark phase at that point.  Angry with the Lord for not jumping at my command, I told another young man I’d met at our church, who insisted that he was madly in love with me and always had been, that I would go on a date with him.  He had been bugging me for years, even though I had a boyfriend at the time.  Now that I was finally free, I gave in to his persistence. I honestly entertained this thought, "even though I know he's dated all the other girls in church too, he won't hurt me. I'll hurt him first before that ever happens." I became a scheming, manipulative 19-year-old that had a hardened heart toward God and His "plan" for me.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chapter 10

10.  Shining His Light
I could spend hours telling stories about being on tour that summer but I suppose I’ll have to be satisfied with a few highlights.  I'll begin by saying that a bus built in the early 1970’s might not last a whole three months of driving over 5 hours every single day.  In the summer.  Down South.  During a heat wave.  The air conditioning broke.  ......Of course it did.  The bus was about 30 feet long and there were approximately 20 of us on it for at least 5 hours each day. We would get on the bus early in the morning, travel through the day and debark in the afternoon at a church in a different city far from where we'd been the night before. We'd spend the day doing devotions, listening to music, sleeping (lots and lots of sleeping) and getting to know each other. Teammates had come from all over the United States, Canada and even one girl was there from France. We had different denominational backgrounds and I learned much about the beauty of tradition from some of my friends as they learned a lot more about the grace and freedom found in a personal relationship with Jesus.

Our mission was to bring encouragement and prayer support to churches throughout North America as we made our way to a coastal airport to depart for whatever foreign country in which we would perform concerts, bringing Jesus to a hurting world through music. We often prayed for the people for hours afterward as they lined up to receive a personal touch from the Lord. We saw many miracles both spiritual and physical.

Since our team was headed to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Belize for about 3-4 weeks from the end of July to the beginning of August, we started out in central California and made our way through the southern United States from the middle of June to the middle of July. When we were finished with the overseas portion, we'd fly back to Miami and make our way back to California, concert by concert each night for the final Homecoming concert at the end of August in Visalia, California. At that concert, all 7 teams would gather for a special "thank you" concert for the families and supporters of the ministry.

Each person on the team had a job to do and mine was to be the bus cleaner.  Another girl and I had to clean the bus after we arrived at the location every single day.  Every single day.  In the heat.  Without air conditioning (have I mentioned that?).  I remember being sweaty and dirty every single day before having to go inside a new church and be pretty & sweet for a bunch of people I'd never met before. I am a neat freak and hate being dirty at all, therefore while I was cleaning I know that I said words that perhaps were a tad bit colorful and certainly had to repent for later.  Oh well, I suppose you can always say that it "built character" in me.

I must mention here that we had the best director in the history of the ministry and he and I are still good friends today.  He was fun, intelligent, talented and had a true heart for God.  All the girls had crushes on him.  Except for me, of course.  Remember, I had my true love waiting for me at home.  Besides that tiny distraction, the girls on the team really developed strong bonds with each other and we made both hilarious and touching memories ministering, laughing, praying and crying together.  

I now call that tour “the spirit of Toilet Harrassment tour”.  This moniker sets it apart from later tours by being the only one during which a morning was not complete if one of the ladies didn’t get on the bus with a story about a toilet catastrophe at her host home, or the restaurant or at the church.  I remember that we were at a Burger King in El Salvador and one of the stalls had a toilet that wouldn’t flush.  So we agreed that anyone who “had to go number one” could use that one and anyone needing, um, more time should use the other stall.  

I should probably mention that while we generally did one concert per day in the States, we usually did two or more per day when we were overseas. So often times we wore our "concert attire" all day long. That year we had two dresses, a one-piece blue-green A-line skirt with button-down top and a fuscia one-piece A-line belted made of fabric which wrinkled easily and breathed not well at all in the Central American heat.  The ladies all had matching earrings and necklaces, black patent leather high heeled shoes and black panty hose. No, don't worry, I didn't have heat stroke by the end of each day (sarcasm inserted here).

Well, my violinist friend was the last one in to the Number One stall and as we're washing our hands, chattering and giggling, suddenly we hear her chagrined voice, “oh noooooo!”  

“What’s the matter?” someone exclaimed.  

In a deeply saddened voice she told us through the stall door, “my concert necklace just fell off….Into the toilet.”  

Groaning as one, we turned to the attendant – foreign restrooms often have attendants in them – who promptly said, “no problemo”.  When our friend came out, the attendant went in and fished out the necklace with her bare hands (feel free to be nauseous) and proudly tried to hand it to our friend.  Smiling weakly, she took the necklace gingerly between her index finger and thumb and gritting her teeth, she dropped it into the sink.  Washing it thousands of times would never erase what we all knew to be true about that necklace.

Throughout this tour and the next three years of college and other mission trips, I struggled mightily with panic attacks and an irritable gastric system.  Traveling only made it worse.  But I was determined to let God’s light shine through me.  I remember one particular afternoon in El Salvador, we were all visiting someone's home in the mountains overlooking an incredibly large lake and I experienced the same shortness of breath, tunnel vision and clawed hands that I had back in high school during my senior year.

I needed to get out of there but had no where to go. It freaked us out and especially my director, who'd begun to look at me as his little sister (I was 18 at the time). He carried me outside where the breeze from the water refreshed me as the team prayed for me. I was so embarrassed but also was scared. I was questioning the Lord, my body, my mind. I didn't know anything about "triggers" and if I had, I don't know that I could have pinpointed anything specific about why my body had rebelled against me. Of course, now I know exactly what was happening but at the time, it was merely something I tried my best to strive to overcome it myself.

In Belize, I had an intestinal episode that kept me running to find bathrooms at the most inconvenient times and places. Yet I managed to perform at the concerts, praying over others, watching them receive miracles from God and still act like I wasn't becoming more and more terrified of my own body and mind.

Only after my mother went back to college, earning dual bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology, did the Lord show us that my episodes were bona fide panic attacks and were probably kicking off an illness known as irritable bowel syndrome.  Later when we were armed with this new information, Mom and I went to the doctor.  After many tests and years of searching I finally understood that I had these issues, what triggered them and that would have to learn how God could make a new miracle through me.